Terminate Big Wind’s Production Tax Credit to save eagles, bats, whooping cranes – and jobs
Congress and the White House are struggling to find even one subsidy or entitlement program that they are willing to cut. But the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) insists that the 2.2-cents per kilowatt-hour Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind electricity must be preserved yet again – and then (maybe, partially) phased out over the next five years. With combined subsidy and PTC price tag of $12 billion in 2013, this is utter nonsense.
The PTC must be terminated, right now, and any further expansion of wind power halted. Not just for debt, fiscal cliff and economic reasons, but for moral and environmental reasons: Wind turbines disrupt and destroy wildlife habitats. They butcher birds and bats that are vital to ecological diversity and agriculture.
It’s time to stop subsidizing the slaughter!
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and American Bird Conservancy say wind turbines kill 440,000 bald and golden eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, cranes, egrets, geese and other birds every year in the United States.
Turbines also eradicate countless night-flying, insect-eating bats. However, new studies reveal that these estimates are frightfully low, and based on misleading or even fraudulent data. The horrific reality is that, in the United States alone, “eco-friendly” wind turbines are killing an estimated
13,000,000 to 39,000,000 birds and bats every year!
These shocking figures reflect the presence of well over 39,000 turbines in the United States, located in habitats with widely varying numbers and species of raptors, other birds and bats, says Mark Duchamp, president of Save the Eagles International and chairman of the World Council for Nature. His estimates are based on a 2012 study by the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO/Birdlife), which utilized data from 136 official turbine monitoring studies from Spain, and is corroborated by a 1993 study of bird mortality from wind turbines in Germany and Sweden, Duchamp explains.
These figures cover only flying creatures that are struck and killed or mortally wounded by turbines, whose blade tips move at 100-200 mph.
Over the past 25 years, 2,300 golden eagles have been killed by turbines just at Altamont Pass, California, Dr. Shawn Smallwood estimates. The subsidized slaughter “could easily be over 500” golden eagles a year in our western states, Save the Eagles International biologist Jim Wiegand told me, plus many bald eagles. Entire flocks of geese can blunder into turbines and get killed.
These are not sparrows and pigeons killed by house cats. They are our most vital and magnificent species.
In the 86-square-mile area blanketed by the Altamont wind facility, no eagles have nested for over 20 years, and golden eagle nest sites have declined by half near the facility, even though both areas are prime habitat, says Wiegand. Overall, there has been an 80% population decline for the golden eagle in Southern California, he notes. Since wind turbines began proliferating, there has been a 47% loss of raptors in Oregon, the USFWS states, and a 42% decline in bird populations in Iowa, according to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources researcher.
After being nursed back from the brink of extinction, magnificent five-foot-tall whooping cranes now face annihilation, due to thousands of turbines being erected within their 200-mile-wide, 2,500-mile-long migration routes, former FWS whooping crane coordinator Tom Stehn fears. From their small population, over 200 cranes have “gone missing” in recent years, and now Fish and Wildlife is deceitfully delaying the 2012 “whooper” count until after Congress votes on the PTC. It has also changed the survey methods, from a complete census with a 2% margin of error – to a “distance sampling method” that injects a 25% error margin that Stehn says is “unacceptable and useless for species recovery management.” (But the new methods are very helpful for hiding wind turbine kills, says Wiegand.)
These actions are an integral part of the corrupt practices, disinformation and double standards engaged in by politicians, government agencies and environmental groups to support Big Wind: outrage, intolerance and penalties for fossil fuels – subsidies, favoritism and exemptions from laws and regulations for wind.
The Interior Department has used sage grouse and lesser prairie chickens to justify prohibitions on oil leasing and drilling, and prosecuted oil companies for unintentional deaths of 28 mallard ducks in North Dakota – but it has never penalized a single wind turbine company for eco-slaughter. Now its Fish and Wildlife Service wants to issue “programmatic take permits” that would allow wind turbine operators to repeatedly, systematically, legally and “inadvertently” injure, maim and kill eagles, cranes and condors.
Possess a feather from an eagle killed by a wind turbine, trap a bat in your attic or smash a goose egg – and the penalties are swift and severe. But kill eagles, bats, geese or whooping cranes with a wind turbine, and there is no penalty and no outrage from the Sierra Club – only more subsidies and tax credits, and more exemptions from the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and NEPA/EIS studies.
Interior and the FWS also let monitoring ornithologists search for dead birds only within 130-165 feet from turbine towers, thus missing numerous birds that were flung further by the impact or limped off to die elsewhere, and search for carcasses only every few weeks, allowing scavengers to take most of them away. In addition, wind facility crews remove and bury carcasses illegally, say Wiegand, Duchamp and the Spanish Ornithological Society. Officials also let operators treat data as proprietary trade secrets, safeguarded under nondisclosure agreements or put into private data banks immune from FOIA requests; impose high security at turbine sites to make accurate, honest, independent mortality counts impossible; and filter, massage and manipulate data to make mortality appear minimal.
No other American industry is allowed to operate with such immunity and impunity. It is time to end the wind Production Tax Credit and the blatant favoritism and exemptions for the wind power industry. Big Wind must be held to the same standards, laws and regulations that apply to all other industries.
Industrial wind operators must be required to permit access by unbiased outside experts to their facilities, to ensure compliance with the law and facilitate regular, full, independent bird and bat mortality counts. They must be required to comply with all endangered species, migratory bird and other environmental laws.
Before acting on the PTC, Congress should demand an accurate and verifiable 2012 winter count for the whooping cranes, along with complete age class figures – and prohibit the Fish and Wildlife Service from implementing any programmatic take permit system for eagles and other birds. It should also demand a multi-year, independent, transparent study of bird and bat mortality, at every wind facility in America, before allowing the PTC to be extended or another turbine facility to be built in the United States.
From an additional ecological standpoint, wind is our least sustainable energy option. Industrial wind projects require huge swaths of land, often in pristine area, for turbines, access roads and ultra-long transmission lines. Turbines and transmission towers require enormous quantities of steel, concrete, rare earth metals, copper, unrecyclable fiberglass and other materials – more than fossil fuel power plants that generate 90% of US electricity. It makes far more sense to build conventional power plants, and forget about wind power.
Moreover, wind energy is a net jobs and economic loser. By raising electricity costs for factories, internet hubs, offices, malls, hospitals, school districts and other businesses, industrial wind power kills two to four jobs for every wind job created through government mandates, subsidies and tax credits – which themselves extract billions of dollars from productive sectors of the economy, to support Big Wind.
Its impact on the budgets, health and well-being of people on low and fixed incomes is equally damaging.
Wind energy will never be competitive with alternative electricity sources, especially with the shale gas revolution driving the price of natural gas down to $3 per thousand cubic feet to power high-efficiency combined-cycle generators. Intermittent, unreliable wind power is parasitic, entirely dependent on fossil fuel generators to provide electricity every time the wind is low or nonexistent. Finally, for those worried about “dangerous global warming,” wind energy does almost nothing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Allowing current practices to continue – or worse, permitting Big Wind to expand to generate 25% of US electricity – would be a catastrophe of monumental proportions. Millions more birds and bats will die, and entire species will disappear from habitats, geographic regions and throughout the United States.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.